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An evening’s introduction to Somali cuisine

During our meeting, Somali born Asha, had shared with me pasta was a stable in Somali meals.  I was surprised and my curiosity was peaked to experience a Somali meal.  On Sunday, went out to dinner with Asha and her friend, Amoon.  Although my boys are not picky eaters, they were dragging their feet a little as we were driving south to Tukwila to meet Asha.  I was thinking it may end up being a big bust of a dinner and I should not “force” them out of their comfort zone of dining at home.  We parked in front of the Salaama Restaurant and were a bit perplexed to find two entrances.  Asha guided us to the left entrance (at the end of our meal, I learned the other entrance is for a women only where Asha dines when alone or with girlfriends).  As soon as we sat down my trepidation/frustration for my boys’ attitudes were erased.  Their curiosity joined mine as we walked into find a modest setting of about 20 tables and a world map covering an entire wall.  The friendly, attentive owner, Nor, greeted us, quickly presenting pitchers of guava and mango juice. After we sampled both, Nor said the best was to mix the two.  My boys quickly reference the 7 11 Slurpee graveyard (mixing all flavors in one cup).   Did this man just say they could make a grave yard with the juices??  They were all in and patiently waited what would arrive at our table next.

Nor and his young son placed a perfectly ripe banana in front of each of us.  Asha and Amoon broke out in laughter.  I was a little confused.  Through their laughter, they shared, “Somali’s eat bananas with every meal.  We don’t know why.  Maybe it is a sweet/savory thing.”  I picked up the banana to begin peeling it.  They quickly stopped me, followed my more laughter.  The banana is not eaten as an appetizer.  I should wait and eat it with the meal. Since the dinner, I have posed the trivia-like question to many friends, “What fruit is served with Somali meals–breakfast, lunch and dinner?”  It is a good one, stumping everyone I have asked.  Who knew?

The young women shared current events in their lives.  Graduates of University of Washington, both are working 40 hours per week.  Asha is beginning classes at UW towards a Masters in Education Psychology and Amoon is in the second phase of the application process for medical school.  My boys are in awe as they listen to the work/life schedules of young adults…could hard work be soaked up by osmosis??  That was my hope in that moment!!

Somali food 1web Somali food 2 web

Our family-style meal arrived.  We sat in awe.  I ran to my car to grab my phone to take a picture.  The images do not do the food justice.  It was incredible.  The enormous plate was filled with well seasoned basmati rice, spaghetti, kaati kaati (very thinly sliced bread that looked like wide noodles) and topped with grilled chicken, grilled salmon and roasted goat (they were out of beef that evening).  It was as delicious as it looked.   A condiment bottle of homemade hot sauce provided a tangy, heat-filled punch…I wanted to slide the bottle in my bag it was so good!  Mid-way through the meal, my youngest son kept repeating, “Can we come back here with dad?  We HAVE to bring dad here!”  It was a memorable meal!

The smiling owner, Nor, checked in to see how we liked the dinner.  He proudly held a print out of a restaurant review the Seattle Times published on Friday.  The great review he received is well deserved.  If you have a chance, head south to Salaama!!

Thanks to Asha for introducing us to Somali food and sharing a small part of a culture we are completely unfamiliar with.

Before I close for the day, I wanted to share a podcast link.  I was streaming KUOW Wednesday and heard journalist, John Hockenberry of The Take Away talk with “three young Muslim-Americans struggling to reconcile their ‘Muslim’ and ‘American’ identities”.  It is a great piece that should be heard and shared.

“First Generation Muslim-Americans Navigate Challenges of Faith and Country”


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